Aims and the experience behind them


Nigel Smith 2010

Nigel Smith

There can’t be much doubt that Tony Blair’s premiership established, beyond reversal, the use of referendums in Britain. While there are only a few compulsory constitutional uses such as the unification of Northern Ireland with the South or the transfer of powers to the EU there is no going back to the days of sporadic use.

There have been many thousands of referendums around the world and a good body of academic writing about them including some fine stuff by academics in Britain. There is almost no writing about the practicalities of a referendum – individual and occasional experience soon fading from memory – a gap that this site aims to address at least for the UK. And there is the no small matter of two referendums that will decide the future shape of the British State.

Another topic of enduring interest is the eternal battle between centralized and decentralized power in a democracy. So multi-level government and the devolution of power in  the EU, UK and Scotland gets an airing here . These matters also frequently give rise to referendums.

This battle over powers often leads to constitutional conventions giving them a long history. There may be soon be one in Britain and certainly one in Scotland if it votes for independence. They too often end in referendums.

There you have the site – referendums, centralization and constitutional conventions – plus some random observation and memories such as the gripping debate that I witnessed in the House of Commons more than fifty years over deaths in captivity at the Hola Camp in Kenya.

So promoting the use of referendums means

  • advocating the use of initiatives & referendums as a two related reforms among other pressing reforms of representative democracy
  • promoting fair conduct of referendums in the UK and highlight abuse and misuse
  • encouraging dialogue between academics, regulators & practitioners around the world
  • providing, in due course, a resource for journalists and interested parties

and giving strategic advice to campaigns

  • advising campaigns on the dynamics and strategy of referendum campaigns.

drawn from my referendum experience

After chairing the cross-party Yes campaign in the Scottish Devolution referendum in 1997, I advised the Yes campaign in the Northern Ireland referendum in 1998 and chaired the London based cross-party UK No Euro referendum campaign from 2002 till the abandonment the referendum in 2003. In the latter role, I worked with the UK Electoral Commission for two years interpreting PPERA (The UK Elections & Referendum Act -new in 2000)  in preparation for the proposed Euro referendum (that never was) and the North East of England Regional Assembly referendum in November 2004.

My interest in referendums was stimulated by Tony Blair’s sudden commitment to referendums in 1996. Since then I have visited referendums and initiatives in many countries including Switzerland, the US notably California and Colorado and several of the EU Accession referendums.

I take a special interest in how broadcasting balance is achieved during referendums talking to experts in UK, Ireland, Switzerland and Denmark. I served on the Wilson Committee reviewing the fairness of the BBC’s coverage of the EU.

and from other campaigns

Open Europe, Fairshare campaign for STV-PR in Scottish Local Government, Broadcasting for Scotland Campaign, Campaign for a Scottish Parliament, Sunrise Now, Stop the Tour.

and Public service

BBC Broadcasting Council for Scotland,Telematics for the Scottish Parliament, Bank of England Scottish Consultative Committee, Scottish Engineering Employers Association,  Scottish Constitutional Commission,Camden Race relations Committee.

The day job

I worked for large corporations in London for twenty years returning to Scotland in 1976 to run an engineering company in Glasgow and to witness the debacle of the 1979 devolution referendum.

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